US 7367496 B2
Detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices. At least one information-transmitting wireless device is provided for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears. When using a plurality of devices for a particular wear position, the devices may be stacked or placed in a depth-wise, end-to-end arrangement. As another alternative, a single device having a plurality of separable areas may be provided for each of one or more wear positions. As yet another alternative, a single device may be provided for each of one or more wear positions such that its failure to transmit indicates wear at the corresponding wear position. An information-transmitting device may become damaged or missing, due to item wear, and an RFID reader may therefore be unable to scan (i.e., receive data from) the device.
1. A method of detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, comprising:
providing at least one information-transmitting wireless device for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears; and
providing at least one information-transmitting wireless device for each of one or more wear positions of a second item, wherein each of the devices provided for the second item is adapted for transmitting information to the reader, such that each of the devices provided for the second item can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the second item as the second item wears,
wherein the information transmitted by the devices provided for the item and the information transmitted by the devices provided for the second item is usable for detecting whether the item and the second item are wearing in concert at an expected rate.
2. A method of detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, comprising:
providing at least one information-transmitting wireless device for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears and wherein the transmitted information for each of the wear positions is usable for determining wear patterns of the item.
3. The method according to
4. The method according to
5. The method according to
6. The method according to
7. The method according to
at least one of the devices provided for a particular wear position functions as a base tag; and
at least one corresponding device is provided, for the device functioning as a base tag, wherein each of the at least one corresponding devices functions as a child tag of the base tag for the particular wear position.
8. A method of detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, comprising:
providing at least one information-transmitting wireless device for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears, wherein:
a plurality of devices is provided, for one or more selected ones of the wear positions, in a depth-wise, end-to-end arrangement; and
at least one more-deeply-stacked one of the plurality of devices in the depth-wise, end-to-end arrangement corresponds to a decreased amount of remaining usable material of the item at the wear position.
The present invention relates generally to information-transmitting devices (such as radio frequency identification, or “RFID”, tags), and more particularly, the use of such devices for detecting wear of items.
Information-transmitting devices, such as those commonly referred to as RFID tags, may be used for labeling and tracking items of merchandise from manufacturing through distribution and retail sale. A typical RFID tag includes both passive elements (e.g., an antenna) and active elements (e.g., a read-write data memory, control circuitry, and a radio frequency transponder). RFID transmissions are, by definition, wireless. RFID tags are typically not self-powered, but may receive their power via capacitative coupling from an external radio frequency source. When brought into proximity with an RFID reader at a typical effective distance of about 1 centimeter to 5 meters (depending on the type of tag), the RFID tag receives sufficient power to enable clocking the semiconductor and analog portions comprising the transponder, control circuits, and data memory through enough clock cycles that the tag can return the data bits from its memory as a digitally-encoded RF signal. This is advantageous because the tag can be read (or written) from a distance without the necessity of line-of-sight, as had been required to read a bar code with a laser scanner.
RFID technology has generally been utilized for inventory control (e.g., in a warehouse, manufacturing, or distribution facility) and for item identification at the point of sale as an improvement over today's nearly ubiquitous laser-scanned bar codes. Several large retailers have indicated a desire to begin using RFID tagging on all their inventory. The cost of RFID tags is expected to decline to the point of being cost-effective even on small-value retail items.
In one aspect, the present invention comprises a method of detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, comprising a step of providing at least one information-transmitting wireless device for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears.
In another aspect, the present invention comprises a system for detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, comprising at least one information-transmitting wireless device provided for each of one or more wear positions of an item, wherein each of the devices is adapted for transmitting information to a reader, such that each of the devices can transmit information usable for detecting wear of the item as the item wears.
In yet another aspect, the present invention comprises a computer program product for detecting wear through use of information-transmitting devices, the computer program product comprising computer-readable code embodied on one or more computer-usable media, the computer-readable code comprising instructions that when executed on a computer cause the computer to receive wear-related information from at least one information-transmitting wireless device provided for each of one or more wear positions of an item, each of the devices adapted for transmitting the wear-related information, and to use the received wear-related information for detecting wear of the item.
When using a plurality of devices for a particular wear position, the devices in the various aspects may be stacked or placed in a depth-wise, end-to-end arrangement. As another alternative, a single device having a plurality of separable areas may be provided for each of one or more wear positions. As yet another alternative, a single device may be provided for each of one or more wear positions such that its failure to transmit indicates wear at the corresponding wear position. An information-transmitting device may become damaged or missing, due to item wear, and an RFID reader may therefore be unable to scan (i.e., receive a signal from) the device.
The foregoing is a summary and thus contains, by necessity, simplifications, generalizations, and omissions of detail; consequently, those skilled in the art will appreciate that the summary is illustrative only and is not intended to be in any way limiting. Other aspects, inventive features, and advantages of the present invention will become apparent in the non-limiting detailed description set forth below.
The present invention will be described with reference to the following drawings, in which like reference numbers denote the same element throughout.
Embodiments of the present invention enable detecting (referred to herein equivalently as “measuring”) wear of items using information-transmitting tags. For example, the tags may be embedded or otherwise attached to an item; as another example, a tag might be placed in a receptacle of an item. Degree of wear may be measured. Wear patterns may be detected across one or more wear positions. Notifications pertaining to wear may be generated.
Through use of techniques disclosed herein, the time and skill it takes to routinely inspect items for degree of wear and/or proper wear patterns can be reduced. In addition, knowing when to replace items that wear, thereby improving safety and/or comfort, is facilitated. A wear pattern that does not fall within a threshold of an expected rate might indicate, for example, that the corresponding item is improperly installed or is defective.
RFID tags can be created using relatively inexpensive manufacturing techniques, and the tags can be attached to an item, embedded within the item, placed on packaging material of the item (using conductive carbon ink, for example), and so forth. As another alternative, an RFID tag might be embodied independent of an item to be monitored with the tag (as discussed in more detail with reference to
The read-write data memory in today's RFID tags is non-volatile and typically has a capacity of 5 to 256 bytes. As use of RFID tags becomes increasingly popular, memory capacity may increase. In prior art uses, the memory typically stores an “Electronic Product Code” or “EPC”, a counterpart of the bar code, that assigns a searchable number to each item. The EPC uniquely identifies an item individually (including product type, serial number, etc.), not just by item type. Present versions of the code use 96 bits of information, which comprises an 8-bit header, two sets of 24 bits that identify the manufacturer and the item type (respectively), and a 40-bit serial number. Ninety-six bits encode enough information to uniquely identify trillions of items. See “Beyond the Bar Code” and companion article “What's My Number” by Charlie Schmidt, Technology Review Magazine, March 2001, pp. 80-85.
As an alternative to use of an EPC, an RFID tag may bear an item SKU (“stock-keeping unit”) and a unique item serial number. An SKU is an identifier used for categorizing items, for example by item type. The serial number may be globally unique, or unique within the SKU number. A combination of SKU and serial number may therefore be used to uniquely identify a particular item of that particular type.
When using either an EPC or an SKU with serial number, this information is stored in the small memory area on the RFID tag of the item. When power is supplied to the RFID tag's antenna from an RFID reader, the information stored in the memory area can be read and transmitted to the RFID reader. A representative RFID tag 100 of the prior art is illustrated in
Note that while discussions herein refer primarily to using RFID “tags”, this is not meant to limit the present invention to use with a particular physical form of RFID implementation. RFID tags may be more generally referred to as transponders. An RFID tag may be attached to an item, may be embedded into the item, or may be provided in an embodiment independent from an item, and it is not necessary that the physical embodiment of the RFID components resembles a tag. (Furthermore, it should be noted that while discussions herein are primarily in terms of RFID technology, this is by way of illustration and not of limitation. Other information-transmitting technology may be substituted without deviating from the scope of the present invention. In addition, the term “RFID reader” is used herein by way of illustration, and other interrogating devices may be substituted.)
In several embodiments, RFID technology (referred to herein as an RFID tag by way of illustration) is impregnated in or otherwise attached to an item for which the item wear is of interest.
As one example of how RFID tags may be positioned on an item, an ordered sequence of RFID tags may be stacked, one of top of another, at one or more wear positions of interest. In a stacking embodiment, as the item wears, stacked RFID tags are removed from the stack (e.g., by wearing away or falling off as the item deteriorates) and thus are damaged or missing and cannot be scanned by the RFID reader. An RFID reader can then determine, by reading from functional tags remaining in the stack, how much wear has occurred. For example, if the RFID reader continues to receive information from the topmost tag, this indicates that the item is probably not yet degraded at that wear position, and an assumption can be made that the remaining tags are still in the stack. Conversely, if the RFID reader does not receive information from particular ones of the tags in the stack, then it may be assumed that those tags have been removed (or if tags higher in the stack are still transmitting to the RFID reader, then the non-transmitting tags may be too deeply embedded in the item). Refer to the discussion of
As another example of how RFID tags may be positioned on an item, a tag might be positioned depth-wise along a wear position of interest, with the tag providing a range of information at varying depths. In a depth-wise embodiment, as the item wears, portions of the tag wear away, thus removing the associated portions of the tag's information. Typically, a tag used in this manner can continue to transmit information, even if it is partially damaged. For example, a tag might be divided into quadrants, and if one of the quadrants breaks off or wears away, the tag may detect this and adapt the wear-related information it transmits accordingly. Refer to the discussion of
As yet another example of how RFID tags may be positioned on an item, a tag might be placed in a connecting embodiment. In a connecting embodiment, if portions of the item cease to connect (e.g., due to wear or damage, such as expansion, contraction, bending, or twisting), the RFID tag can be used to detect that the connection is impaired. Refer to the discussion of
In an automotive example (used by way of illustration but not of limitation), items that may wear on the automobile may (for example) have RFID tags applied thereto or embedded therein. Suppose, for example, that wear patterns and/or degree of wear are to be monitored on an automobile's tires, brake pads, and/or rotors. Manufacturers of these components may provide one or more RFID tags for each item, and/or tags may be applied by another entity such as the automobile assembler, tire retailer, and so forth. In some cases, a manufacturer might supply a physical or digital map of an item, suggesting preferred locations for positioning RFID tags. Industry standards may be adopted that specify information pertaining to positioning such tags for particular items. Standards might be prescribed for use with tires, for example, to indicate where such tags should be provided on particular types of tires and the number of tags that should be used for optimal results. Alternatively, proprietary implementations may be provided for placement of tags on items, and might (for example) be used in a competitive environment to emphasize the tagged item's enhanced safety as contrasted to its competitors.
Sample tag positionings according to the exemplary embodiments noted above are shown in
It may happen in some scenarios that an RFID reader receives signals from more than one tag from the stack at a particular wear position. For example, if the tags are stacked in cardboard material of a cardboard container, the reader may receive signals from several of the tags in a particular stack. The signals might be received, for example, from several tags at the top of the stack; as another example, signals might be received from the top-most and bottom-most tags in a stack. An algorithm is preferably used that factors out all but the most-relevant signals in such scenarios. Alternatively, an algorithm might be adapted for determining that, when (for example) 50 percent of the tags respond to the RFID reader, then 50 percent of the item has worn away.
As will be obvious once the teachings provided herein are known, one or more embodiments may reverse the numbering illustrated in
Using the stacked RFID tags is preferably implemented by providing an RFID reader that reads an RFID-readable identifier borne on a tag, along with additional information encoded in the tag. In an automotive scenario, for example, an RFID reader might be provided in equipment used at an automobile repair shop, such that the tags of interest can be scanned for reporting their wear-related information to an automotive technician (e.g., by providing information for display on a device console located in the repair shop). Or, as one alternative, an RFID reader might be integrated into an automobile. When used with tires, for example, an RFID reader positioned in the wheel well might scan the tags in the tire for wear as they reach the “twelve o'clock” (i.e., upright) position. As another (non-limiting) alternative, a single RFID reader may have the capability to scan all tags in the wheel well or throughout the entire automobile at any given instant. Information from the tags may be reported (for example) through dashboard displays.
Implementations of the present invention may provide information as to degree of wear and/or remaining usable material at wear positions of a particular item, as discussed above. As an alternative, it may be important to monitor whether an item is wearing evenly and/or at an expected rate. For example, data may be collected from the various wear positions of the tire illustrated in
Percentage of wear may be monitored for items (including mated items), in addition to their rate of wear. For example, an automobile may periodically record the brake pads' percentage of wear in non-volatile memory, along with time and mileage. If within 1,000 miles, the brake pads wear from 90 percent remaining to 60 percent remaining, for example, the automobile may generate a warning for the driver due to the unexpected rapid wear rate. Faster-than-expected or slower-than-expected wear rates could mean defective parts or incorrect installation.
When data has been read from tags, that data may be used in a variety of ways without deviating from the scope of the present invention. For example, an automobile driver might be provided with dashboard messages, as noted above, where these messages may indicate information such as improper wear patterns, degree and/or rate of wear, current wear percentage remaining, and so forth. Or, as one alternative to providing messages for display on the automobile's dashboard, messages might be transmitted to a printer, diagnostic console, email system, etc.
As one alternative, instead of (or in addition to) generating messages or reports of wear-related information obtained from RFID tags, the wear-related information may be used to alter the characteristics of the monitored item. Such alterations may be made, as one example, when the wear-related information indicates an abnormal wear pattern. For example, an automobile, lawnmower, or other vehicle may be outfitted with a control mechanism that prevents the vehicle from being started if the detected wear on a critical item is deemed to be outside specified tolerance values or otherwise dangerous, thereby potentially protecting the vehicle's operator from harm.
Through use of the present invention, notification can be provided of potentially unsafe conditions. Because transmission of data from the RFID tags is automatically activated upon coming into proximity of an RFID reader, reliance on a human to search out and detect wear patterns of concern is avoided. In addition, using an automotive scenario by way of illustration, interrogating the RFID tags with an RFID reader can be achieved without requiring the automobile to be placed on a jack and raised for inspection, in contrast to techniques commonly employed for problem detection by humans, thereby potentially lowering costs of problem detection. For example, RFID readers could be mounted to the garage entrance in such a way that as an automobile enters the garage, the automobile's RFID tags are automatically read. Furthermore, no expert knowledge is required by a human as to what types of wear represent potential problems, where to search for wear, and so forth. Human error is also avoided, whereby a human inspector might (for example) overlook a dangerous flattened spot on a tire tread. A number of systems in an automobile might be inspected in an automated manner using RFID tags on such systems, using techniques disclosed herein.
The depth-wise arrangement shown in
As an alternative to using a single tag 310 with separable portions, individual tags may be placed depth-wise (i.e., end-to-end) along the wear position. This is illustrated in
Embodiments discussed heretofore are primarily in terms of detecting wear by failing to read a particular tag or tags. In other embodiments, however, wear may be detected by reading new or unexpected tags. “New”, for example, might mean that a particular reader found some number “X” tags in a system throughout the past month, while today it finds two additional tags. “Unexpected” might mean, for example, that the reader logic is adapted to expect three tags and only three tags, whereas any other tags (without regard to timing) would be considered unexpected.
As will be obvious to the reader, the scenarios illustrated in
Usage of information from the tags to detect wear will now be discussed in more detail. A “base” RFID tag may be provided for an item, where this base tag stores item-specific information. For example, such information may comprise identifying information such as the item's EPC, its SKU, its unique item serial number, or some combination thereof. Or, an item name or other type of identifier might be stored. Depending upon the item, the base RFID tag may also store information such as a threshold percentage of wear at which the item should be replaced for wear positions overall, or for different subsets of wear positions. The item's base tag might indicate the expected number of associated wear tags for wear positions overall, for each individual wear position, or for different subsets of wear positions. A base tag may be considered as a “parent” tag, and preferably contains all the necessary information to identify the wear tag characteristics and thresholds of its corresponding “child” wear tags. A base tag may contain information (e.g., a string or header) that explicitly identifies it as a base tag. Each wear tag may be unique so that it can be identified by the RFID reader as such. For example, in
Data provided on individual wear tags may comprise a name or other identifier of the item to which the tag corresponds, the percentage of wear represented by that tag (as discussed above with reference to
A base tag might indicate, for example, that a certain item should be replaced when any of its RFID tags (or perhaps some number or pattern thereof) reports wear in excess of 80 percent. Suppose that, upon receiving transmissions from the item's wear tags, wear in excess of 80 percent is reported from wear positions numbered 34, 36, and 51. A warning message may then be generated to inform a user of this information. It may be deemed useful in some scenarios to provide a physical or digital wear position map corresponding to a particular item, indicating (for example) where the RFID tags having certain identifiers are located on the item.
An RFID reader may be adapted for reading information from a base tag and its corresponding child wear tags, and may use information obtained from the base tag to determine (for example) how many child wear tags should be available (i.e., scannable) for the item and where those tags should be located. In an alternative approach, use of separate base tags may be omitted. In this approach, the RFID reader may report the information it receives from the wear tag or tags for an item, such that an interpretation of that information can be obtained (for example) by consulting a reference manual for the item.
Referring now to
Techniques disclosed herein may be used with a wide variety of items. As one example, tags might be placed on the soles of running shoes to determine wear patterns of the shoes. As another example, tags might be placed at various locations on lawn mower blades to determine wear patterns of the blades. Many other usages will become apparent, once the teachings disclosed herein are known, and such other usages are considered to be within the scope of the present invention.
As will be appreciated by one of skill in the art, selected components of the present invention may be provided as methods, systems, and/or computer program products comprising computer-readable program code. Accordingly, the present invention may take the form of an entirely hardware embodiment. An embodiment combining software and hardware aspects might be used alternatively.
Furthermore, components of the invention may take the form of a computer program product accessible from computer-usable or computer-readable media providing program code for use by, or in connection with, a computer or any instruction execution system. For purposes of this description, a computer-usable or computer-readable medium can be any apparatus that can contain, store, communicate, propagate, or transport a program for use by, or in connection with, the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device.
The medium can be an electronic, magnetic, optical, electromagnetic, infrared, or semiconductor system (or apparatus or device) or a propagation medium. Examples of a computer-readable medium include a semiconductor or solid state memory, magnetic tape, removable computer diskette, random access memory (“RAM”), read-only memory (“ROM”), rigid magnetic disk, and optical disk. Current example of optical disks include compact disk with read-only memory (“CD-ROM”), compact disk with read/write (“CD-R/W”), and DVD.
Referring now to
Input/output (I/O″) devices (including but not limited to keyboards 918, displays 924, pointing devices 920, other interface devices 922, etc.) can be coupled to the system either directly or through intervening I/O controllers or adapters (916, 926).
Network adapters may also be coupled to the system to enable the data processing system to become coupled to other data processing systems or remote printers or storage devices through intervening private or public networks (as shown generally at 932). Modems, cable modem attachments, wireless adapters, and Ethernet cards are just a few of the currently-available types of network adapters.
While preferred embodiments of the present invention have been described, additional variations and modifications in those embodiments may occur to those skilled in the art once they learn of the basic inventive concepts. Therefore, it is intended that the appended claims shall be construed to include preferred embodiments and all such variations and modifications as fall within the spirit and scope of the invention. Furthermore, it should be understood that use of “a ” or “an” in the claims is not intended to limit embodiments of the present invention to a singular one of any element thus introduced.